On Friday, Xcel Energy’s nuclear power plant in Monticello, Minnesota, was forced to shut down temporarily for repairs after officials discovered that radioactive material was leaking into the groundwater. The leak was initially publicized last week, with approximately 400,000 gallons of water containing radioactive tritium having been discharged from the plant, which is situated along the Mississippi River.
Tritium is a mildly radioactive type of hydrogen that is naturally found in the environment, but is also a byproduct of nuclear power production. When combined with oxygen, it produces radioactive water. While the state and federal authorities have noted that it is only dangerous when ingested in large amounts, Xcel Energy created a container to trap the contaminated water as a short-term solution. This week, however, it was discovered that the container had overflowed, releasing hundreds of gallons of radioactive water into the environment.
The company has stated that the leak is fully contained on-site and has not been found beyond the facility or in any local water sources. They have also managed to clean up approximately 32% of the leaked tritium. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Minnesota Department of Health have both confirmed that there is no current or imminent risk to the public.
Chris Clark, president of Xcel Energy’s operations in Minnesota and the Dakotas, has declared that the cause of the leak is still uncertain, but the pipe responsible for the spill will be tested in a lab.